Has Alvarez Been Unlucky in 2012?

I ask this question because I saw it posed on a message board today. Well, it wasn’t posed. Someone answered by stating that the difference in his BABIP in 2010 compared to 2012 proves he has been unlucky in 2012. But has he been unlucky in 2012?

The short answer is that, indeed, based on his BABIP Pedro Alvarez has been unlucky. However, I think his struggles in 2012 (and last year) are more because he just isn’t that good rather than luck. That is – he has been unlucky, but not as much as his raw BABIP data would suggest. The reality is, the BABIP posted in his freshman season very well likely could be his high water mark.

One point to make as I look a bit more into this: I think the BABIP stat is way overused in an effort to make someone look better when they have been really bad. Alvarez has been really bad. BABIP will swing quite a bit season-to-season (see below) and simply concluding that a low BABIP equals a lack of luck is far too simplistic.

Prior to today’s game against the Indians in which Pedro poked two homers, his BABIP in 2012 was .239. When he struggled badly last year it was .272. In his rookie campaign, his BABIP was a robust .342. That’s a span of .102 between his high and low (to date). A couple of questions:

1. Which is the outlier? The .342 or the .239?
2. What is a typical span of BABIP for a player getting 200 PAs in a single season?

I can’t answer #1 at this point with any certainty. His career is too young. But making claim that he is unlucky is making the assumption that his .342 is the general area where his career BABIP will rest when his career ends. Rod Carew’s career BABIP was .359. Willie Stargell was at .314. Dave Kingman was at .252. But, it certainly appears that Alvarez’ career numbers would trend toward a more middling BABIP than those posted by Carew or Stargell. I doubt his career BABIP will be lower than .239. If his career BABIP is say, .265, then we will look back on the 2012 season (at least at this point) and conclude he has been unlucky. But he hasn’t been unlucky as much as some would think.

The reason why he hasn’t been as unlucky as some would think is because the answer to #2 is that the span between the high water mark BABIP and low water mark BABIP of players getting 200 or more PAs in a season is pretty high. I ran the data for every season in which a player had 200 PAs or more going back to 2000 (up through 2011). 968 different players have done so, covering 4,133 player seasons. The overall span in BABIP for anyone who accomplished the feat in more than one season is .063. So, isolating this data, someone who posts a BABIP that is around .300 for his career can expect a swing from .270 to .330 as being normal.

How many guys have a swing of .090 points or more? Nearly one in five do. Out of the 746 players with two seasons or more of 200 or more plate appearances, 140 players (just shy of 19%) have a swing in their BABIP of .090 points or more.

My conclusion is that Pedro’s span in BABIP isn’t that unusual and he hasn’t been all that unlucky. The reality is that he just hasn’t been that good. Luck has had little to do with it.

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  • http://twitter.com/StevefromYukuDU Yukudukes

    You’re over simplifying my argument. My point wasn’t that the difference in BABIP alone was inexplicable statistically unless luck entered the conversation. I suggested that his poor BABIP in the context of somewhat improved contact numbers indicate that he is getting somewhat unlucky. LD % is better than his rookie year by about 1.5%, IFFB% is down by 10%, GB rate is down slightly.

    So he’s making better contact this year yet the overall BABIP is down. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me and leads me to conclude some degree of bad luck is in play. This logic isn’t fool proof (or tested to my knowledge), but I don’t think it’s baseless either.

    • RandyLinville

      I don’t think it is baseless. But I think it is more likely that his rookie BABIP was lucky, while his BABIP in 2011 and 2012 is going to be closer to his career norms. So, he isn’t so much unlucky in 2012 as he was flat out lucky in 2010.

      Also, his LD% last year was a career best, yet his BABIP fell versus his rookie season.

      I also think you are reading too much into the infield pop up stat. From Frangraphs:Infield pop-ups are also tracked on FanGraphs (IFFB%), and they are expressed as the percentage of pop-ups a batter hits out of their total number of fly balls. These numbers are generally small and fluctuate from year to year.

      • szielinski

        Luck = ??? Noise? Random variance? The intervention of the Goddess Fortuna?

        • RandyLinville

          There is most definitely a bunch of noise in BABIP, which is why I’m not a fan of using it to measure what a player is doing in a single season.

          I haven’t seen anything heaven sent coming the Pirates way in quite some time!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    Well the obvious fallacy in the BABIP is that it doesn’t take the quality of the hit into consideration. The simple truth may be that Pedro is going to end up more like Mark Reynolds than Ryan Howard. I think there’s a good chance that Pedro won’t be a career .200 hitter, but he’s not far from being a .220-.225 hitter with 30-35 HR, and I’ll take that.

    I just feel like sometimes there are some unrealistic expectations for Pedro. McCutchen is having his breakout season just this year, and it’s what, his 3rd full season?

    • RandyLinville

      At this point, I’ll gladly take Pedro mimicking Reynolds BA, HR and Ks so long as they come with a decent amount of walks and passable defense at third.

      Also, Cutch is only four months older than Alvarez. Cutch has posted three seasons of OPS+ of 120 or better (going on four). Alvarez is failing to do at age 25 in his third season what Cutch did at age 22. I had (or maybe still slightly have) high expectations for Alvarez. Those expectations might be too lofty, but there is no one else in the system who is coming up with the potential to slug like he does. The short term success of this club rests heavily on his ability to turn it around.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

        Personally I’ve been pleased with his defense so far this year. I’ve always been of the opinion that if he can just get the glove to work, he’ll be good, and that if he was moved to first, he’d easily have the best arm of any 1B in at least the National League.

        I also understand the age argument…but in a way isn’t it a little irrelevant? Major League Baseball is still the Major Leagues. It’s not easy, so I normally consider the experience at that level and the service time above individual player age (assuming the players in question are at least somewhat close; i.e., early to mid 20′s). I just have an issue with all the people that expected a Rookie of the year award from Pedro, followed by an MVP.

        • RandyLinville

          I agree with you – I have nothing bad to say about his defense.

          Age is very irrelevant when looking at what a player can do in a single season. But, generally speaking, players who wind up with a great career establish themselves at a young age.

          I think expectations of a #2 pick should be high.

          I hope he heats up and hits 30 homers over the last 100 games of the season. I hope he keeps it up for 10-15 years. He has two more today.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Of course, one must actually STRIKE the ball to put it in play. Something Pedro just cannot do with consistency. He stinks, plain and simple. I’ve never seen anyone take as many pitches right down the middle as him, or swing thru fastballs that consistently.